AirTran pulling out of Charleston

By Live 5 News Staff email | twitter

By Ian Silver  bio | email

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - AirTran, the low-cost air carrier, has said they will pull out of the Charleston airport in December.

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce was notified of the decision earlier in the week. According to Chamber officials, AirTran could not maintain the high level of sales needed to remain economicall challenging.

The Chamber issued the following statement:

"AirTran informed us earlier in the week they had made a decision to suspend service to Charleston beginning Dec. 3.  The decision is based on economic reasons, as a result of the downturn in the economy and the resulting limits put on business and personal travel.  The suspension does not necessarily mean this decision is permanent. As the economy improves, changes may occur for AirTran which will allow them to begin service in Charleston again. We are certainly disappointed but will continue to work with our partners - the Charleston County Aviation Authority and Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau to attract low cost air service to our community."

The last flight between Charleston and Atlanta are scheduled for Dec. 3.

Some say they are worried AirTran's exit will bring higher air fares.

"It probably will get more expensive because right now Delta cuts their prices because of AirTran being here," AirTran passenger Martha Hunt said.

Hunt flies a lot because her husband lives in Mississippi. She doesn't always fly AirTran, but she says they're usually the cheapest.

"I actually prefer to go on Delta because they have mroe flights, but AirTran usually has better prices."

The same has been true for Tony Pijut who has a tradition of flying through Charleston with friends every year on his way to play golf in Myrtle Beach.

"It looks like we'll have to investigate Delta a little bit more than we did before," Pijut said. "Delta this time here was about 180-bucks more roundtrip."

AirTran officials say the bad economy is what's forcing them to taxi out of Charleston.

"This was all triggered in part by last year's fuel spike, and then the continuing weakness in the economy," AirTran spokesperson Cynthia Tinsley-Douglas said.

But AirTran's exit from Charleston won't leave the airport empty. Airport officials say AirTran only makes up about 8% of the total business at Charleston International.

"We were just not able to capture the market there as we had thought we would be able to," Tinsley-Douglas said.

For now passengers are left with less competition, and possibly, soaring air fares. But it might not be forever.

"We are always evaluating routes and look at...there could be a time in the future when we might be able to resume service there to Charleston," Tinsley-Douglas said.

There are still eight other airlines that will continue to fly out of Charleston. No word yet if any other airlines will be coming to Charleston to replace the loss of AirTran.

©2009 WCSC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.